Fight Club Survivor isn’t exactly the type of club someone wants to belong to. It exists to make sure those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are in treatment or soon to be in treatment filled with the love and support they need.
Founder and president Jeanne Wokurka, a two-time breast cancer survivor, began the nonprofit organization to ensure others know they are not alone in their fight.
Wokurka lived a normal life, “well as normal as life can be,” she joked. She graduated from Beecher High School in 1990, married her husband, Tom, in 1997, and had their first child, Nate in 1998. The couple’s second child, Emma, arrived in 2008.
But her world forever changed in 2011 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“You hear words ‘you’ve got cancer’ it knocks your socks off. It makes you feel like your whole life has been sucked out of you,” said Wokurka.
She underwent chemotherapy and radiation and had a lumpectomy.
“I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I felt sorry for my family members around me,” said Wokurka. “They were going through it just as much as I was.”
And while she beat the cancer, it came back in 2014. The second time, Wokurka underwent a double mastectomy. Later that year she had a complete hysterectomy.
“It’s interesting to watch your body react to these drugs,” said Wokurka who commented that one drug made her skin itch constantly, even six months after she stopped taking it. “But I never got sick. I did lose all my hair, both times.”
By the end of 2014, she was again cancer free. In January of 2015, she started Fight Club Survivor out of her Beecher home.
Fight Club Survivor offers care packages, mentoring and an online boutique to those recently diagnosed and/or currently going through treatment for breast cancer.
“I always wanted to be a Secret Santa. If I ever won the lottery, that’s what I would do. This is just the next best thing. This is my way of paying it forward. I have to. I owe it to God,” said Wokurka.
“God gave her two chances at life and we want to pay it back,” said her mom and Fight Club Survivor vice-president Bonnie Bewsey.
In the beginning, Wokurka and her team sent out care packages, things she wished she had while sitting at her chemo treatments.
Through her website, people can nominate a loved one to receive a care package. Today, Wokurka also makes and includes a personalized necklace – a necklace she hand makes at her kitchen table.
When someone requests or nominates a loved one to receive a package, Wokurka asks for the person’s month of birth and the month of birth of their children and loved ones. From there, she makes personalized necklaces with colored beads inside a heart that represent each person.
“The packages and necklaces just let those recently diagnosed or going through treatment that they are not alone. Sometimes you need a reminder that you have more than yourself to fight for,” said Wokurka. “It helps others look in their heart and remember to fight for the ones in their heart.”
And, she added, sometimes it’s just nice to get a package in the mail.
The personalized care packages also come with a hope rock, worry angel, uplifting book, boxing glove keychain and other comfort items.
“Something so simple is sometimes big,” said Wokurka. “It just lets them know they are not alone.”
The crafted care packages come at no cost to the recipient, except $6 to cover shipping.
After going through chemotherapy or radiation many survivors and loved ones who have lost someone donate items used during treatment. Those items, including mastectomy bras (bras with insert pockets), mastectomy camisoles and tops, breast prosthesis, wigs, wig stands, scarves and hats.
People from around the U.S. have donated or purchased items. And the only cost – $1, because Shopify won’t let her “sell” things for free and the cost of shipping.
“As soon as I post an item, it’s gone. Sometimes, I don’t even know how people find us,” said Wokurka.
And it’s a time consuming endeavor Wokurka is happy to do to help others.
Fight Club Survivor also provides a mentoring program. Women who have battled breast cancer serve as mentors to those recently diagnosed. Wokurka matches mentor volunteers with those who request a mentor based on their experiences and interests.
“In the fight against breast cancer, we need all the inspiration we can get,” said Wokurka. “When you first get a diagnosis, it’s hard to talk about. But it important to let others know they are not alone in their fight.”
Fight Club Survivor hosts several fundraisers throughout the year to keep the program running.
Fundraisers include the Mother’s Day and Fall Basket Bingo, Beecher Fourth of July celebration raffle and pink donation buckets throughout the county in October. A quilt is also being raffled off in October.
And Wokurka does all the fundraising with the help of her board members including her mother, Bruce Scheiman and Angie McCauley.
Scheiman, who survived prostate cancer 11 years ago, commented, “I can share my experience too. I’m just proud to be a part of the organization and am willing to do any part I can (including calling bingo numbers during fundraising events).”
Every donation, no matter how large or small, helps Fight Club Survivor continue to fund and ship care packages and operate the online boutique.
And while Wokurka doesn’t operate Fight Club Survivor for recognition, she recently received the Franciscan Health Courage Award, sponsored by VITAS.
For more information, to nominate someone for a care package, to shop the boutique or to donate, find Fight Club Survivor on Facebook, visit fightclubsurvivor.org or call 844-PINKFCS.
“While God allows me to be vertical, I’m going to pay it forward. I want to remind them (those diagnosed with breast cancer) who they’re fighting for and that one way or another, they too will get through this,” said Wokurka. “I’m here for you. Fight Club Survivor is here for you.”